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UVA Professor Helps Cancer Patients, Survivors Relieve Stress through Writing

January 30th 2019

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - An associate professor and poet at the University of Virginia is using the power of writing to help cancer patients and survivors.

Organizers describe it as a way for people to reconnect with themselves.

Whistle Words helps women reclaim their sense of self after coping with a cancer diagnosis.

On Wednesday, January 30, Whistle Words was showcased to the medical community at UVA.

“This project really is something I'm passionate about, and something that has really helped me heal,” Wendy Walters, a Whistle Words participant, said.

This type of healing allows cancer patients and survivors the opportunity to take their mind off their struggles.

“I will give them a picture of, say, an owl, and I will say, ‘what is the owl thinking?’ or, ‘what does the owl smell like?’ and have them write - usually just a prompt for a minute and then they'll write as fast as they can, sort of like they're taking a knitting class,” Charlotte Matthews, a UVA professor who co-founded Whistle Words, said.

“Through the 14 months of remission, I feel like I've found sort of a new passion in myself for writing, and that passion has helped me heal,” Walters said.

Matthews says she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer at age 39 and received great care, but something was missing.

“Like a part was missing, the real talk about what was in my heart and my fears about surviving or not,” Matthews said. “And so I decided - and as a writer, I decided to hope to offer these free writing workshops to women.”

“Through the act of writing, whether it's about my experience through the cancer journey or whether it's about something completely unrelated, it gives me a way to process,” Walters said.

Women in the workshop say the process gives them the sense of a new light, and a way to share with others.

“A sense that a wholeness of the person that writing can provide, a sense of that there's power in the written word, there's - words matter, and that they're not simply a patient,” Matthews said.

Whistle Words will hold its next six-week writing course on Fridays starting March 1 at University Baptist Church.

The workshops are open to women impacted by cancer, whether they’re patients, survivors, or caregivers.

You can find out more details on the workshops by clicking here.